How to Design a Great Book Cover

In a 2009 video interview with C.S. Richardson-who was the VP Creative Director of Random House of Canada at the time-the seasoned book designer said that a great book cover does not sell books, but it merely begins the process of selling the book. A great cover should get the attention of the potential reader while representing the book’s message.

This information is a great place to start, but where do you go from here on the book cover design process?

If you are working with a traditional publisher, they have their own team of designers who may or may not involve you in the design process- your contract with the publishing company will explain this.

But if you are a self-published author, you need to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to design. So use the following tips to help you create your cover on your own or collaborate with a professional.

Step #1: Clearly Define Your Book’s Message and Title

In case you didn’t do this in your early developmental stages of writing your book, you should find a way to clearly define you book’s message in one sentence.

Now that you have that one sentence, you can use that sentence as a criteria for designing your book cover. As you go through the following design stages, ask yourself “does this design help potential readers understand my book’s message?”

If the answer is “yes,” then you have a winner.

Now that you have a concise message, you will want to make sure that you have the right book title that will help you attract the people who are interested in your message.

When you are confident that you have the right message and title, you are ready to move on to the next step.

Step #2: Look for Inspiration

Create a collection-either virtual or physical-of the colors, shapes, images, icons, font types and design layouts that catch your attention as you browse other books. These should be books with similar topics or at least in the same genre so that you know what your potential readers will be comparing your book cover to.

Unless you are publishing an e-book or audiobook download, you will need a design for the spine and back cover. So don’t forget to look at the design on the spine and back cover of the books you review.

You can start your search by browsing the shelves of your local bookstore or surfing the pages of online bookstores like Barnesandnoble.com and Amazon.com.

Hongkiat’s blog shares a long list of sample book covers and highlights the elements that help make a book cover strong or weak.

Step #3: Get a copy of the book cover design requirements from your chosen book printer.

By now you should have chosen a book trim size and a POD or traditional printer. Book printer’s always give the dimensions they need for covers of each trim size. Knowing these numbers before you-or your independent book designer-create your amazing book cover will save you time and money later because you already have the correct dimensions.

 Step #4: Collect any images you want included in your cover.

Not all covers include images, but if you plan to include them this is the time to get them.

I know that most self-publishing companies offer cover design tools for free that include images, but I never recommend using those free tools until you read the fine print of the terms of agreement. Those free tools often come with the limitation that your cover can only be used on books printed or published through the company that provides the free tool.

This limitation is also found on covers designed as part of book production packages from a book distributor or self-publishing company.

If you don’t mind this limitation then feel free to use those free tools or packaged design services. But if you want to have the most freedom over the printing and distribution of your book, then collect your own images or partner with an independent book cover designer who will buy the best images for you and allow you to do anything you want with your book.

If you are designing your book on your own, here are some websites that will allow you to use images for free or for a low fee. Before you use any image from these resources, make sure you read and understand the criteria for using the photos. Photos are protected by copyright just like your book, and you don’t want to jeopardize your book’s success with copyright infringement.

This Student’s Guide to Images includes more resources and information about copyright.

Step 5: Write the book blurb you want on your back cover.

You already know that your back cover will have a design too, but before you get carried away and create an elaborate design with no room for your book blurb, it would be a nice idea to think through what you want your back cover to say to your readers.

The front cover design and title will make the potential reader stop to look at your book, but the book blurb is what entice’s them to open the book and read the table of contents or the first couple chapters before deciding to buy the book.

If you are an unknown author, it would be a great idea to get a raving endorsement or two for your back cover to help build your credibility with readers.

The blurb should acknowledge what your readers will want to learn from your book and be a brief appetizer to your book’s message. You may want to return to some of the books you reviewed earlier for inspiration.

I also recommend reading Spirit Author’s step-by-step post about writing a wholesaler’s blurb and then condensing it down to the back cover blurb.

Step #6: Get a bar code that includes your unique ISBN and your book price.

If you are working with a professional book designer, they may provide a bar code for you. But they will still need to know your book price and ISBN.

You can always decide to sell your book for a discount later, but the price on the cover will represent the “suggested retail price.”

Major book distributors will always require that the book price be included on the cover.

Step #7: Jump in and design the book cover.

You have all the research and resources pieces you need for a great book cover. So jump right in and design it.

If you prefer working with a professional, I make a list of recommendations as part of the “101 BEST Resources for Authors.”

If you prefer to design it on your own and you don’t have the Adobe Photoshop software used by industry professionals, I recommend the following free tools as alternatives:

Step #8: Get feedback on your cover design from people who represent your target audience.

It’s great when you like the cover, but it’s even better when your readers like it!

Final Thought

I am offering these steps as tips to help you understand what goes into designing a great book cover, but don’t let them restrict your creativity. You may start at step #5 and then jump to step #2, and that’s okay.

But to make sure that you have a cover that attracts your readers and meets the requirements of major book distributors, you should complete each of the steps outlined above.

Designing your book cover is one of the more fun parts of producing your book. Just be smart about how you do it.

Question: What is your favorite book cover design, and what do you love about it?

Image by: By Oregon Department of Transportation (Book cover  Uploaded by AlbertHerring) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Danielle Fetherson

Danielle helps aspiring authors become published authors. She believes that everyone has at least one book on the inside of them that can make a positive impact on someone else's life. If you have been thinking about writing a book, learn how to start your book today with the free resources at DanielleFetherson.com.

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